Moving thoughts

It seems that every day I feel both excited and terrified about the prospect of uprooting myself and moving away from Chicago. I was born and raised in Chicagoland (as my friend Adrienne likes to call it). Even though I spent about two years in total away from it while living in Toronto, it’s always been home to me.

I was a suburban girl for just over 20 years, and have spent another 20 living in the city of Chicago proper, so I know a lot about this area. Moving to the Bay area means starting over. I have to learn new weather phenomena and cycles, new neighborhoods, and new patterns of daily living. (That “turn left to turn right” driving thing in Silicon Valley is just as weird to me as the New Jersey jughandle.) There will be no “autopilot” to my days for a while, which I expect to find both exhilarating and exhausting.

While being off my feet for the past few weeks has forced me to change my daily habits and prioritize my non-work time differently, it has also allowed me to spend some guilt free time browsing the internet and absorbing as much as possible about the communities that make up the area. The original plan was to move to Silicon Valley and be attached to our office in San Jose. I have a friend in Santa Clara who has some insights into what SV life is like. She talks about spending her weekends hiking in the sunny mountains or lounging on the cool (yet still sunny) beaches around Santa Cruz. Occasionally it rains, but mostly it doesn’t, and the range of temperatures are not drastic, either. However, some things have happened to change my mind.

First, there was my vacation. (This last one where I sprained my ankle, and set myself up for a fracture.) I traveled with two friends, and one of them was my friend from Santa Clara. I hadn’t actually been with her in about a year and in that time she has changed a lot. She describes her new focus on exercise to be in line with all her peers at work. These are people who compare their weekend exploits of extreme cycling, running, and hiking. She says it is “the norm” for people in Silicon Valley to be this way and that everyone is sharp and competitive. I just won’t fit in with that.

I do need to get back into exercising more regularly, but I’m just not competitive. My friend’s new outlook put some strain on our interactions during the vacation, and made it clear to me that I simply could not live with that in my face all day, every day.

Second, it looks like I have some good project opportunities through our San Francisco office. I’ve already been working on a project where the sponsor is located in SF, and which promises to grow. My boss’ boss is in SF, as well, and my boss is already thinking of ways to get me more integrated into that network. (My boss has been fantastic about supporting me and my desire to move. Although I won’t get my relocation reimbursed or a cost of living adjustment because this is a voluntary move, once he realized I was serious about wanting to leave Chicago he has been clearing the way for me. And while I won’t get a raise, I will be placing myself on a new scale simply by moving to a higher cost of living area, which means I won’t top out of the pay scale for my grade anytime soon.)

While I’m happy to work in San Francisco, I just can’t see myself living there. It is much too expensive for me right now. Housing is expensive through the Bay area, but SF is pretty much top of the scale. So I’ve switched tactics a bit and am mostly looking for housing in East Bay now. I’m finding that the housing stock is more varied. There are older buildings that may not be as updated but that are more like the housing here in Chicago. Living in a vintage building without a dishwasher is nothing new to me, and it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make for a (hopefully) reduced rent and less hassle about my dog.

Ah, yes, there is the dog to worry about. My dog is nearly 12 years old now, yet she is still very healthy. When I adopted her at approximately 10-months of age, I guessed that she may live to be about 12 because of her size. She’s not enormous, but she is 50 pounds and larger dogs live shorter lives than little lap dogs. Her robust health sort of surprises me. We just spent a bunch at the vet’s this week because she was acting listless and not wanting to eat earlier this week. Turned out she was severely constipated and needing a good cleaning out. Since we had to peek inside her with the x-ray anyway, the doc pointed out she has very healthy-looking internal organs and no sign of arthritis in her back, either. She’s back to being her normal, perky self now, and it sounds like she’ll be that way for a few more years.

While the dog has mellowed quite a bit and is much more tractable since being the only dog in the household, she still has a negative reaction to most other dogs. Plus she’s a mutt and at least one of the likely breeds in her bloodline (cattle dog) is considered undesirable in some apartment complexes. This could be most problematic at corporate-run apartments, which are the majority in Silicon Valley. In East Bay, I may have other options.

Then there is B to think about. I don’t yet know if he will be moving with me. It’s possible he won’t. I don’t want to write much about it here right now, other than to note that I’ve told him I simply can’t afford to move him and pay for anything larger than a one-bedroom apartment; if he wants to continue living with me and wants a bigger apartment, he has to be kicking in more rent.

Since I’m not planning on packing up my entire house and will pare my belongings down a lot, I’ve even been thinking that it may be good to move in as someone’s roommate at first. Pros are that I wouldn’t have to invest in any furniture right away and I wouldn’t be as lonely while I build my new network of friends and acquaintances. (Yes, I know that roommates don’t always become BFFs, but it is nice to know there is another person around and that you are not completely isolated.) Cons are that I could end up hating the experience and having to tough it out for the terms of the lease.

Well, it does no harm sit here and dream and set some positive intentions that I’ll find a great place to live, right? Ideally, here is the type of living situation I’d be able to secure:

  • An apartment in a house/duplex/triplex
  • Access to a yard
  • Welcoming of my dog
  • Ability to garden/grow food in the yard
  • Maybe ability to share a flock of chickens in the yard?
  • Close to public transportation over to SF (the BART, AC Transit, or a ferry (I particularly like that last one; it sounds romantic to commute by ferry!)
  • Good walk score and ability to get groceries and visit restaurants/cafes on foot

I’m thinking that North Oakland or Berkeley may fit the bill, and I’m also looking at Alameda. I know that Oakland doesn’t have the most pristine reputation, but I am not a “delicate flower” when it comes living situations. I’m used to living in a diverse (and what may be considered by some people as not completely “safe”) neighborhood, although I also don’t want to take unnecessary risks with my self or my property. It seems that the neighborhoods in North Oakland (like Temescal, Rockridge/Claremont, and Piedmont/Montclair) may be pretty decent.

In one week I’ll get my chance to find out a bit more because I’m flying out to San Jose and staying at my Santa Clara friend’s place for several days. (Assuming I am out of this big boot and able to walk, that is!) I’m calling it a “scouting trip” and I’ll be spending my days working out of our office in San Jose and/or San Francisco, and my after work hours and off days looking at neighborhoods (and perhaps even apartments). It’s too early to actually sign a lease, but it doesn’t hurt to get a look at the housing stock.

If anyone knows the area and has suggestions, please add them in the comments! I’m open to hearing opinions and getting tips on pretty much anything related to living in the Bay area.

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9 thoughts on “Moving thoughts

  1. Although I know someone who was robbed in broad daylight in Rockridge last year, for the most part, it IS one of the nicer places in Oakland. My friend lived in one of the cheaper neighborhoods a few years back and lost a friend in a mugging turned shooting so I’m always a little hesitant about which areas we go to now.

    I feel like Berkeley may be the better fit in terms of maybe having chickens 🙂 and both Berkeley and Oakland have pretty good food options so that’s great. Are you going to be working out of SF for sure? Vs San Jose?

    I ask because if San Jose, the commute from East Bay would be kind of terrible (it’s the damn bridges, and I personally just can’t deal with 1-3 hr drive times depending on traffic anymore). I feel like there must be some options on this side that aren’t in SV … the culture you describe is NOT one that I’d fit in with either and I’m on this side of the water. I’d wonder if you might want to try looking at Pacifica, it’s a cute town with outdoorsy but pretty friendly and generally mellow seeming people (friends live there). I recently met friends of those friends who has a fairly decent house with her kids there and she takes in roommates so it seems like maybe there are options of that sort.

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    • Well, the particulars are moving around all the time, it seems. Just this week I was invited to meetings in our San Francisco office next week, so it looks like I’m commuting (most likely driving…ugh!) from Santa Clara to San Francisco and not working in San Jose after all.

      Since these meetings will bring me deeper into the project out of SF, it seems I will definitely be working out of San Francisco office instead of San Jose. It’s interesting that you mention Pacifica because it was noted on the Chronicle of the Horse message boards (the “horsie boards,” as I call them) as a possible place to live for someone needing to work in SF yet wanting to live someplace close to horse culture. I’ll try to visit it and see what it’s like during my scouting trip next week. In general, I’m hoping to keep my housing costs to $2,500 or less a month; if I can economize and live in safety, I’ll be quite happy. 🙂

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  3. I also immediately thought of the commute issue. I essentially switched career paths because I didn’t want to commute from east bay to silicon valley! (Obviously there were other factors.) When you say SF, you mean SF near a bart? For example, I think south SF is also a bit of a commute, but doable.

    Anyway, I’d recommend near North Berkeley BART. Also, Rockridge, but good luck finding something affordable there. It is safe, but expensive these days. I don’t live in either of these areas right now, but when we move, I want to.

    I’m not well versed in oakland yet (I moved to the bay area about 6 months ago). Some say it is good, others say that it not, and I think it really varies block by block. The best areas that I’d be most interested in (adams point) are not super close to BART, though liveable.

    Also, if you live in the west side of the city (not near bart), you may be able to afford SF proper and take MUNI where you need to go. I didn’t explore this much.

    I also know of some people that live in Marin county and other areas that commute by ferrry… that wasn’t an option for us, but you could see what the commute would look like there.

    Good luck!

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  4. Chicago’s expensive, too…surely SF isn’t that much more than a major city like Chicago. My son and his two roommates lived in Oakland for several years. They had a three-bedroom flat in a nice house, plenty of privacy for each person, and it was an easy commute into the City. It was in an area along Piedmont Ave., just below the really expensive foothills section. Some areas of Oakland are dangerous, but some are very pleasant and as safe as anyplace these days.

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    • I’m still leaving Oakland as a possibility, but the areas I checked out last month (mostly around Rockridge and the Berkeley border) were too “hipster” for me (for lack of a better word/description). I *loved* Alameda, though. Cost of living differences between Bay area and Chicago seem to be mostly around housing. I currently live in a stable but non-trend neighborhood in Chicago and am paying about as much for a big house (mortgage plus taxes and maintenance on a four bedroom/3 bath home) as a nice two bedroom or luxury one bedroom costs in that area. Alameda seemed to have pretty reasonable rents, though. My SV friend says that’s because it’s more “blue collar” but I really don’t care. It seemed very similar to the neighborhood I live in now and I’m happy to live with blue collar folks; they tend to be more realistic and less focused on buying the latest trendy crap.

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